Al Qaeda in Japan
This story isn't exactly hot off the presses, but it does illustrate just how far-reaching al-Qaeda's tentacles are - and how dangerous it is to assume that only "suspicious-looking swarthy males" need watching.
NIIGATA -- To his neighbors, Lionel Dumont was a mystery.These extremists are obviously diligent with their homework, as they knew enough to play on the high regard the Japanese have for 白人 (gringos).
When police and immigration officials asked about the Frenchman, Dumont's landlord had no idea who he was, even though the landlord lived right across the street and had only 36 tenants in his apartment building.
Hardly swarthy, is he?
"They showed me a black-and-white picture and asked if I remembered him," Jubei Sato said. "I couldn't place him at all. I don't think I saw him once the whole three months he lived here. He blended right in, never caused any trouble. But I found out after he left that he'd only paid half his rent."
Last week, Sato -- and the rest of Japan -- found out why authorities were interested in the 33-year-old starting a few months ago.
Dumont, according to police, may be the first al-Qaeda operative to have infiltrated Japan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. And he did it with amazing impunity, entering on a faked passport and repeatedly leaving and re-entering the country before slipping out again for good a year later.
Dumont's arrival in July 2002 should have raised red flags. He was put on an international wanted list in 1999 after escaping from a Sarajevo prison, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for the murder of a Bosnian policeman during a robbery. He was in Bosnia fighting alongside other Muslims.
Why Dumont came to Japan remains a puzzle.
Scrambling to find answers, police last week raided several businesses in and around Tokyo and arrested five men allegedly contacted by Dumont after he left Japan. The five -- three Bangladeshis, an Indian and a Mali national -- were arrested for alleged immigration violations or the falsification of documents.
The Dumont case has prompted calls from the highest levels for heightened vigilance, including an order by Public Security Intelligence Agency chief Takashi Oizumi for authorities to act as if "Japan were at risk of being the target of a terror attack tomorrow."
But what is most frightening about the Dumont case for many is the challenge it poses to a deeply held assumption -- that while the post-9/11 world is a dangerous place, this island nation is too homogeneous or too isolated to be penetrated by foreign terrorists.
Prosecutor Joachim Ettenhofer, who handled the case in Europe, said the French extradition request cited only robbery accusations and did not mention terror-related activities. But French investigators have linked the Roubaix gang, named after the city where it was based in the mid-1990s, to a radical Islamic network, contending that robberies were used to finance extremist activities.
Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted in the United States of planning to bomb the Los Angeles airport during millennium celebrations, was linked to the gang. A lack of solid evidence meant that terrorism-related charges were never brought against Dumont or other members.
Japanese police also reportedly suspect Dumont might have been laundering money, noting he made several trips to Europe and Asia before leaving Japan for Malaysia in September 2003.
Dumont might have sought refuge here because entry is relatively easy for Westerners. As the bearer of a French passport, the blue-eyed Dumont would not have been as closely scrutinized as a Middle Eastern visitor. (emphasis added)